Carl Torbush likes the analogy of trying to drink from a firehose. That’s the feeling East Tennessee State’s one-man football program has at the moment.
Torbush was named the new head coach last week and has been scrambling ever since to get the word out that he and the Bucs are indeed back in business.
“It’s been a whirlwind, from the time I was announced at the press conference,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve been doing a lot of press conferences over my long career, and I can honestly say that was the best one I’ve been involved with. Just the excitement of people … it was a great day.
“Since then I’ve talked to a lot of people. I had the opportunity to go to Scott Niswonger’s golf benefit, and that was great fun. We had a ‘70s reunion the other night that I really enjoyed. We just have a lot going on.”
The 61-year-old Torbush has been a football coach for more than half his life now, at a lot of different places, but he has never confronted a challenge quite like this one.
ETSU has no equipment, no players, no stadium — only grand ambitions. Torbush’s first team will be on the field in 2015.
“It is very different, starting from scratch, but that’s what intrigued me the most,” he said. “Of course, we have a tradition here that we can still use. A lot of these new start-ups have never played football, period. East Tennessee State has had some outstanding teams and great players. I’ve already heard from several of them.”
Torbush is regarded as a people person in the coaching community, and he brings a wealth of experience to ETSU. He’s been a head coach at North Carolina and Louisiana Tech, and he’s served as defensive coordinator at places like Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi, along with UNC.
He has been living in Sevierville since “retiring” earlier this year. But he’s taking advantage of local connections during this transition period.
“I’ve got a pretty good deal right now,” he said. “My wife’s from Kingsport, and my mother-in-law lives in Piney Flats. I’m exactly 12 minutes from the center of campus, and the cooking is pretty good.”
Torbush still hopes to have a couple of assistant coaches on board within the next week or so, though he says this time of year isn’t ideal for some potential candidates to make a move. Once the staff starts to take shape, the process of assessing players can begin in earnest.
“Right now we’re not playing a game for two years, so it doesn’t matter whether guys are offense or defense,” said Torbush. “We need coaches who can touch East Tennessee and the surrounding areas. We want to be competitive the next two years while selling the future.”
A big part of that, of course, is a new stadium. The coach has toured the campus with ETSU officials, looking at potential sites. There has also been talk about going off campus to build.
Torbush will have some input into that and design decisions, and he takes it very seriously.
“We want to make sure we do it right the first time, because there won’t be a second time in our lifetimes,” he said. “The stadium will be where we put it for the next 40-50 years, and we have to be in position where if we need growth we’ll have the ability to do that.
“We also need to have it right on campus. I’ve seen too many programs that play off campus, and it hurts them in a lot of different ways.”
Torbush is tuned in to the peripheral benefits that his sport brings to many schools.
“The football environment is different than anything else, and there’s just so much it has to offer,” he said. “I firmly believe it will help enrollment, help academics, help the economy in Johnson City and the Tri-Cities area. If it wasn’t that way, you wouldn’t have all these Division III schools starting football.”
In the meanwhile, Torbush will continue to be a highly visible figure in the community, with a string of appearances. He’ll be at Beef O’Brady’s in Johnson City tonight at 6:30 and throw out the first pitch at the Johnson City Cardinals game Friday night, which happens to be the team’s first-ever appearance at Thomas Stadium.
“I want to make sure I’m accessible, not just a trophy or some sports figure,” he said. “I’m a real person, and I enjoy putting smiles on people’s faces.
“My biggest goal right now is not to bounce that thing to the catcher Friday night. I’ve got enough buddies that will abuse me pretty bad if that happens.”